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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/630

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Editor's Table.

 

A COMMISSION IN DIFFICULTIES.

THE synopsis which has been given to the press of the Thirteenth Annual Report of the Interstate Commerce Commission is not encouraging reading for those who like to believe in legislation as an infallible panacea for all public and social ills. The tone of the document indeed is very far from being one of triumph. The note struck in the very first paragraph is the need for more legislation to save the copious legislation already passed from proving ineffectual and abortive. Whether it is that Congress does not wish to make the work of the commission successful, or whether it has begun to have a wise distrust of its own powers, we can not say; but the commissioners complain bitterly of its inaction. We can not do better than quote their own words: "The reasons for the failure of the law to accomplish the purposes for which it was enacted have been so frequently and fully set forth that repetition can not add to their force or make them better understood. It is sufficient to say that the existing situation and the developments of the past year render more imperative than ever before the necessity for speedy and suitable legislation. We therefore renew the recommendations heretofore made, and earnestly urge their early consideration and adoption."

As the document proceeds, we see the good commissioners at war with the wicked railways, and it is impossible to resist the conclusion that, on the whole, the wicked railways have the best of it. The commissioners admit that certain cases which have come before the courts have been decided against them, and in favor of the railways; but they are far from disclosing the full extent of the discouragement, not to say mortification, they receive. The business of the commission is to interfere between the railways and their customers—the public—in the interest of the latter. The railways naturally consider this a rather one-sided function, and are not extremely zealous to aid in its performance. They have their own troubles with the public, and have no commission to come to their assistance. Everybody is after cheap railway rates, just as everybody is after cheap goods; and the means sometimes resorted to to get reductions would at least hold their own for astuteness with any that could be concocted in a traffic office for the raising of rates. We give the commissioners full credit for doing their best to protect the interests of the public, but we can not help doubting whether, on the whole, the public has derived much benefit from their efforts. In fact, we are strongly inclined to the opinion that the whole idea of the commission is simply a legislative blunder.

The railways undoubtedly possess great powers which theoretically there is nothing to prevent their abusing to almost any extent. But what is theoretically possible is not always practically possible. The President of the United States possesses great powers, which theoretically he might abuse to any extent; so does the Queen of England; so do many other potentates. But of all the evil that is theoretically possible, how much is carried out in practice? All kinds of things might happen if people were fools enough to do all the harm that it is in their power to do. The great saving fact is that it is not possible to go very